And the 2018 Grand Prix Winner Is...

6 Jun. 2018
Impossible to sum up this whirlwind of a week!

You wait for it for two years and snap, it’s gone. So much emotions, discoveries and revelations packed in four days that you take lessons for a lifetime but almost think you’ve only been there 24 hours. The Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix is always an intense experience and the 2018 edition didn’t disappoint.
When the 41 competitors rolled into town early last week, the rain and the milder temperatures might have been unexpected but they offered a welcome respite from the unflinching heat Havana has accustomed us too. And it certainly didn’t prevent anyone from enjoying their first drink on the Malecon.
In the next couple of days, finding out more about Havana, Cuba Moderna – this year’s theme – and rum took centre stage. On Tuesday, the competitors discovered the fabulous Fabrica de Arte Cubano, where they attended a series of talks. Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller explained the history of Cuban rum while Nick Strangeway and Nick Blacknell presented some of its future. In the main hall, local movers and shakers Clandestina talked about their projects and the Trash Tiki duo introduced the crowd to their anti-waste recipes. This morning of education was followed by a tour of Havana, including a stop at a vintage glassware shop and a visit at the Museo del Ron. The afternoon concluded with the projection of ‘Cuba in a Bottle’, the fantastic movie on rum’s place in Cuban society.
On Wednesday, stress levels were undoubtedly up. Our competitors started the day with a visit of the Havana Club distillery and an inspiring talk from Maestro del Ron Asbel Morales. Back in town, Oxford professor Charles Spence encouraged them to think differently about flavour perception and organic farmer Fernando Monzote introduced them to the produce they could use for their drinks. And then it became very real indeed: competitors were given 3 hours – and not one minute more – to come up with the drink they would present at the semi-finals.
Usually, Vista Mar is a quiet private restaurant located in residential Miramar. On Thursday the 31st, this beautiful 50’s house overlooking the sea was bustling with (unusual) activity. For ten hours, 41 competitors passed in turn in front of a stellar, international jury. Outside, on the terrace, the drinks were then tasted a second time by a no less stellar jury for the First Sip challenge (they were tasked to judge the cocktail without knowing anything about it). This was obviously a very intense day, everyone experiencing a range of emotions. At night, just before dinner, relief awaited the 10 brilliant competitors and – obviously – huge disappointment for the rest. All, though, already knew that no one would ever take their Havana adventure away.
And so on the 1st of June, the 10 finalists introduced an entirely new drink or an enhanced version of their semi-finals cocktail to the judges. It had to be based on Havana Club 7 and feature two modern techniques. In the crowd, ten persons were picked to select the People’s choice winner. If the finalists were nervous, they didn’t show it: their presentations were assured, and their drinks reached the expected standards. Still, a decision was to be made.
The jury’s verdict was revealed at the Awards Ceremony later that evening. During the week, the competitors had been submitted to small challenges and Poland’s Tomasz Źródłowski took that award home. The First Sip team judged France’s Ninon Fauvarque to have made the best drink of the semi-finals. The People’s Choice Awards, for the final, also went to… Ninon. And then, the top three for the 2018 Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix was finally announced. Third place went to Johnson Wisdom Dogbey, from Ghana. Second place was awarded to Stepan Abrahamyan, from Armenia. And the winning slot was awarded to… France’s Ninon Fauvarque! For the first time, one bartender takes three prizes. For the first time, a lady is crowned at the Havana Club Grand Prix. What an amazing, amazing moment that was! Congratulations to everyone involved and, well, see you in two years. In the meantime, watch this space for more on our winners, our judges and our team.

François Monti